This summer, artist Mikel Janín will help guide one of DC's highest profile events in the New 52, the multi-title crossover Trinity War.
So it's hard to believe that four years ago, he had never even worked in the comics industry before.
Although he was always interested in comics, until 2009, Janín was making his living as an architect. After earning an architecture degree in college, he had been running his own small architecture company in Spain and had never even tried to draw comics for a living.
Fans of Janín's work can thank the recent economic turmoil in Spain for the artist's decision to switch careers. As the architecture business slowed down to the point that he couldn't earn a living designing structures, Janín decided to try his hand at drawing comics instead.
In 2010, he got the attention of DC editor Eddie Berganza at the Avilés Comic Con in Spain. Berganza tested him out with a few pages for Justice League of America, and the rest, as they say is history.
Janín was suddenly one of DC's go-to artists in 2011 — not only did he draw a Flashpoint mini-series, but he jumped right into the launch of one of the New 52 titles, Justice League Dark. By then, DC must have realized his potential, because they announced an exclusive contract for the Spanish artist in September 2011.
Looking at his artwork in Justice League Dark, it's hard to believe Mikel Janín has only been drawing comics for a few years. And there's a reason DC is trusting him to draw part of Trinity War. As one of Newsarama's "Best Shots" reviewers said of a recent issue, "There's an accuracy by Janín that places the book in a visual category that I don't really remember seeing before...Justice League Dark might just be the best looking book I'm reading from DC right now."
Newsarama talked to Janín, and although he asked that we all "forgive" his "bad English," it was clear that he's passionate about drawing Justice League Dark and is excited for fans to experience Trinity War.
Newsarama: Mikel, to start, what is your background? Where are you from and what made you want to be a comic book artist?
Mikel Janín: I'm from Spain. I wanted to be a comic book artist since I was a toddler. Actually, I learned to read with comic books, before most kids of my age learned to read at school. But when I finished the school, I studied architecture, and then I became an architect, and started a small company. So I kept comics as a hobby. In 2009, things had become really hard in my country, so I left the studio and started a career in comics. It worked, so here I am.
Nrama: That's an amazing story. Let's go back to those early years, when you were first reading comics and starting to draw. What artists were your early influences?
Janín: When I was a kid, most comics I read were from Bruguera, which was the biggest comic publisher in Spain. Then I discovered [The Adventures of] Tintin, and Hergé was a huge influence. I think part of his style still remains in my work.
Then I started to discover a big number of artists and books: John Byrne's Man of Steel, [Frank] Miller and [David] Mazzucchelli's Daredevil, Mike Zeck's Secret Wars, [John] Buscema's Conan, Alex Raymond, Bernie Wrightson...
As I was growing up, I turned my eyes to other styles, and discovered Auraleón, [José] Beá, [Milo] Manara, Crépax, [Guido] Corben, just to say a few. And then I discovered which I think are still my main influences, Vittorio Giardino, Eleuteri Serpieri, Hugo Pratt and André Juillard.
Nrama: OK, going back to what you said about how you were an architect who decided to start drawing comics... How did you break into the comic book business at that stage?
Janín: I started to get some indie work while sending sample pages to DC and Marvel. I had my first chance with seven pages for a JLA 80 Page Giant, and they liked it enough to give me more work.
Nrama: It's amazing that you just started drawing professionally in 2009 and ended up launching an ongoing at DC by 2011. You've really helped define the look of Justice League Dark since you started. How did you first hear that you would be drawing Justice League Dark, and what did you think of the project at first?
Janín: My agent told it to me, and I was totally blown away, since I barely had done one complete book for DC, then. Doing an ongoing, and with Peter Milligan no less, this was simply amazing to me.
Nrama: How would you describe your style? Is there a certain look you try to achieve?
Janín: I'd say it's mostly realistic, but keeping some classic comic-style elements, trying to be as dynamic and expressive as I can.
Nrama: How would you describe your visual approach to the comic?
Janín: My first approach was more realistic, dark and gritty, because of the story. After Jeff Lemire came onboard, the story turned a bit to more superheroic stuff, so I let my art be a bit brighter. I try to give dynamism and scope to the story, and an easy-to-follow storytelling.
Nrama: You know, it's hard to imagine Justice League Dark without thinking of your style. Why do you think DC asked you to draw Justice League Dark? Do you think your style fits with the direction they took with the comic?
Janín: Uh, I really don't know why they asked me. I guess they thought my style could fit in the story. I think I showed some creepy things in the first story I did, or maybe they liked my take on Deadman.
Nrama: Ah yeah, you drew Flashpoint: Deadman and the Flying Graysons. You like Deadman?
Janín: He was one of the first characters I ever draw for DC, so I just love him.
Nrama: How would you describe the character?
Janín: He's a bit like a wannabe superhero, and a bit of a jerk, sometimes, too. But all in all a good guy.
Nrama: OK, this is fun to hear your take on these characters, since you've been on the book longer than anybody, and it's your pencil that probably defines them as much as anything else. Let's talk about Zatanna. Her look has evolved since she was first introduced in #1. What's your approach to the character?
Janín: I have drawn her in about 20 books, right now, so I think I know her pretty well, at least in a graphic sense. I try to make her a kick-ass superhero, a bit innocent and sweet.
Nrama: What's your approach to Madame Xanadu?
Janín: She's mysterious and immortal. She's really old, despite she looks young, so I try to let her age appear through her eyes and expressions.
Nrama: John Constantine has an almost iconic look now. What's your approach to this character?
Janín: I try to show a cynical look, he looks sarcastic most of the time. Also, he's a character with a long and important story behind [him], so I try to keep part of what other artists gave to him before.
Nrama: What has Frankenstein brought to the team, and how do you approach him?
Janín: He brought muscle, and the team was needing a bit of it, so he has been very welcome. I think he is the most fun to draw. And allows me to go straight to action, which I love!
Nrama: You been drawing The Flash in Justice League Dark. What's are the challenges and most enjoyable parts of drawing that character in the story?
Janín: His design and look is very well known, and is easy to draw. The trick is trying to make him as dynamic as possible, especially when he is in action, that's the hardest part. It's not just putting speed lines and lightning, but a challenge for storytelling.
Nrama: Now that you're going to be drawing a ton of other characters from the DC Universe in Trinity War, have you been gathering references and getting ready for that part of the series?
Janín: Yeah, we have literally dozens of characters, so there's a lot of work of reference. It's good to have my editors helping! They're doing a great job putting me on track.
Nrama: What characters are you looking forward to drawing in Trinity War? Any "dream" character?
Janín: My favorite character is Superman, so it's really great having him in the book. Also, I'm a big fan of Hawkman, Batman, Wonder Woman... It's very cool having the opportunity of drawing all of them!
Nrama: Anything you're hoping to bring to the comic for Trinity War in particular?
Janín: I hope not being very behind of the other artists. Having Ivan Reis, Joe Prado or Doug Mahnke drawing other parts of the same story is a bit overwhelming!
Nrama: Looking back at the three or four years you've been working on projects for DC, and even the two years you've been on Justice League Dark, there does seem to be an evolution to your art. Do you feel like you've grown as an artist since you've started tackling the characters and concepts in Justice League Dark?
Janín: Yes, sure. I didn't have a long past working professionally in comics, so I've learned a lot doing this book. I've grown with it, for sure. I think my art is way more confident, more dynamic and my storytelling much better now than in the first issue. My editor Brian Cunningham has been very important helping me to improve. He pushes me all the time to do better art.
Nrama: Then we'll look forward to what comes next for you Mikel. To finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans about your upcoming work on Trinity War and Justice League Dark?
Janín: I hope they will enjoy reading Trinity War as much as I'm enjoying to work on it. And I hope a bunch of readers who discover Justice League Dark with Trinity War will stay with us, because we have big plans for this title.